Now You See It
How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
A digital innovator shows how we can thrive in the new technological age.
When Cathy Davidson and Duke University gave free iPods to the freshman class in 2003, critics said they were wasting their money. Yet when students in practically every discipline invented academic uses for their music players, suddenly the idea could be seen in a new light-as an innovative way to turn learning on its head.
This radical experiment is at the heart of Davidson's inspiring new book. Using cutting-edge research on the brain, she shows how "attention blindness" has produced one of our society's greatest challenges: while we've all acknowledged the great changes of the digital age, most of us still toil in schools and workplaces designed for the last century. Davidson introduces us to visionaries whose groundbreaking ideas-from schools with curriculums built around video games to companies that train workers using virtual environments-will open the doors to new ways of working and learning. A lively hybrid of Thomas Friedman and Norman Doidge, Now You See It is a refreshingly optimistic argument for a bold embrace of our connected, collaborative future.
Attention blindness is key to everything we do as individuals, from how we work in groups to what we value in our institutions, in our classrooms, at work, and in ourselves. It plays a part in our interactions with inanimate objects like car keys or computer screens and in how we value—and often devalue—the intelligence of children, people with disabilities, those from other cultures, or even ourselves as we age. It plays a part in interpersonal relations at home and in the ofﬁce, in cultural misunderstandings, and even in dangerous global political confrontations.
For the last decade, I’ve been exploring effective ways that we can make use of one another’s blind spots so that, collectively, we have the best chance of success. Because of attention blindness, we often arrive at a standstill when it comes to tackling important issues, not because the other side is wrong but because both sides are precisely right in what they see but neither can see what the other does. Each side becomes more and more urgent in one direction, oblivious to what is causing such consternation in another. In normal conditions, neither knows the other perspective exists. We saw this in the summer of 2010 when an explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sent nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Some people reacted to the environmental disaster by wanting all offshore oil drilling banned forever. Others protested about the loss of jobs for oil workers in the area when the president of the United States declared a six-month moratorium on oil drilling to investigate what had gone so disastrously wrong. It was as if neither side could see the other.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we can learn how to share our perspectives, we can see the whole picture. That may sound easy, but as a practical matter, it involves ﬁguring a way out of our own minds, which as the gorilla experiment so perfectly demonstrates, is a pretty powerful thing to have standing in the way. Yet with practice and the right methods, we can learn to see the way in which attention limits our perspectives. After all, we learned how to pay attention in the ﬁrst place. We learned the patterns that convinced us to see in a certain way. That means we can also unlearn those patterns. Once we do, we’ll have the freedom to learn new, collective ways that serve us and lead to our success.
What does it mean to say that we learn to pay attention? It means no one is born with innate knowledge of how to focus or what to focus on. Infants track just about anything and everything and have no idea that one thing counts as more worthy of attention than another. They eventually learn because we teach them, from the day they are born, what we consider to be important enough to focus on. That baby rattle that captivates their attention in the ﬁrst weeks after they’re born isn’t particularly interesting to them when they’re two or twenty or ﬁfty because they’ve learned that rattles aren’t that important to anyone but a baby. Everything works like that. Learning is the constant disruption of an old pattern, a breakthrough that substitutes something new for something old. And then the process starts again.
This book offers a positive, practical, and even hopeful story about attention in our digital age. It uses research in brain science, education, and workplace psychology to ﬁnd the best ways to learn and change in challenging times. It showcases inventive educators who are using gaming strategy and other collaborative methods to transform how kids learn in the digital age, and it highlights a number of successful innovators who have discarded worn-out business practices in order to make the most of the possibilities difference and disruption afford in a new, interconnected world."Her book Now You See It celebrates the brain as a lean, mean, adaptive multitasking machine that - with proper care and feeding - can do much more than our hidebound institutions demand of it. The first step is transforming schools, which are out of touch with the radical new realities of the Internet era ... Davidson is such a good storyteller, and her characters are so well drawn ..."
-The New York Times Book Review
"In her galvanic new book, Now You See It, Ms. Davidson asks, and ingeniously answers, that question. One of the nation's great digital minds, she has written an immensely enjoyable omni-manifesto that's officially about the brain science of attention. But the book also challenges nearly every assumption about American education ... As scholarly as Now You See It is - as rooted in field experience, as well as rigorous history, philosophy and science - this book about education happens to double as an optimistic, even thrilling, summer read. It supplies reasons for hope about the future."
-The New York Times
"In a chatty, enthusiastic style, the author takes us on a journey through contemporary classrooms and offices to describe how they are changing-or, according to her, should change. Among much else, we need to build schools and workplaces that match the demands of our multitasking brains. That means emphasizing 'nonlinear thinking,' 'social networks' and 'crowdsourcing' ... Now You See It is filled with instructive anecdotes and genuine insights."
-The Wall Street Journal
"The book's purpose and strength are in detailing the important lessons we can glean from the online world. Rather than focusing on how games such as World of Warcraft or the social-networking services of Twitter and Facebook change our brains, Davidson believes we should foster these newfound skills, building curricula around interactive multiplayer games and training workers using virtual environments."
"Davidson isn't the first to point out [our] anxieties about texting tots ... But her work is the most powerful yet to insist that we can and should manage the impact of these changes in our lives."
"Cathy Davidson has one of the most interesting and wide ranging minds in contemporary scholarship, a mind that ranges comfortably over literary arts, literacy, psychology, and brain science. Her ambitious and timely book is certain to attract a lot of attention and to catalyze many discussions."
-Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard University, author of Five Minds for the Future
"Now You See It is a stunning work, one that we have all been waiting for and that I endorse wholeheartedly. Only Cathy Davidson could pull off such a sweeping book. It's a true 'wow wow.'"
-John Seely Brown, formerly Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and Director of Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and co-author of The Social Life of Information
"Now You See It starts where Malcolm Gladwell leaves off, showing how digital information will change our brains. Think Alvin Toffler meets Ray Kurzweil on Francis Crick's front porch. We need this book."
-Daniel Levitin, James McGill Professor of Neuroscience, McGill University and author of the New York Times bestsellers This Is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs
"The technological changes around us are of unprecedented proportions. What effects this has on us and what it tells us about human nature more generally is a central question for society and for all of us personally. In this book Cathy Davidson integrates findings from psychology, attention, neuroscience, and learning theory to help us get a glimpse of the future and more importantly a better understanding of our own individual potential."
-Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics, Duke University and author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions
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